Analysis / Postgame / Tactical Analysis

Postgame analysis: Philadelphia Union 3-1 Atlanta United FC

Photo: 215pix

An electric atmosphere and a sense of anticipation characterized the Philadelphia Union’s match against Atlanta United last Sunday, as both teams fought with their sights set on the playoffs.

This last stretch of the 2019 MLS regular season is a unique one for the Union: they are in a coveted first place spot in the Eastern Conference (for now), and more importantly, their final set of fixtures allows them to more or less control their own destiny going into the knockouts.

Without a doubt, the last five games of Philadelphia’s regular season will be the touchstone that sets the tone of their playoff matches, as they face off against top-tier teams like Los Angeles FC, New York Red Bulls, and New York City FC within the span of a few short weeks. But as the Union showed last Saturday, they can match up alongside the best, and beat them.

It was closer than you’d think, but that’s good practice anyway

While a 3-1 scoreline typically indicates a proper thrashing, the Boys in Blue were only able to beat Atlanta by a narrow margin on the pitch. Atlanta maintained a mild dominance throughout the match, in passing possession as well as opportunities, but the Union were able to edge out in their finishing at the end of the match. The perfect example comes from Josef Martinez’s huge miss in the 80th minute. Atlanta were able to dismantle the Union defense and earn a wide-open opportunity at goal, which they mishandled. Now, if that goal had gone in, Philadelphia would have found themselves down 2-1 with only ten minutes left to play, with only 1 measly point for a tie in reach. So despite a clutch performance by the Union in the end, it was a coin flip away from being a difficult defeat.

At the same time however, the closeness of the match speaks volumes about the Union this season and it is a good sign for what’s to come. At the top of the conference, the quality is there and the teams are tight in points and in performance. The Union won’t be fighting to win a 5-1 scoreline against teams like Atlanta, LAFC, or NYCFC. Rather, those matches will be like walking a tight rope and knowing it can go either way. Finding ways of tipping the balance ever-so-slightly in their favor is the name of the game at this stage in the season, and the Union showed that they are capable of doing so against Atlanta over the weekend. Keeping that resilience, drive to win, and work ethic will be key in the coming series of matches that top off the regular season.

Don’t you just love it when it all comes together?

There have been times throughout the season that the Union’s approach has been impotent, like when they attempt cross after cross with nobody within a mile of receiving it, or when they pass the ball back to Gaddis while they’re attacking on a rapid counterattack.

However, sometimes it all comes together, and those are the nights that the coaching staff looks brilliant, the players all have a smile on their face, and the fans renew their season tickets. Last Saturday night ended as the latter sort of night.

Having Homegrown teenager Brenden Aaronson score the equalizing goal must have been a dreamlike moment for the Philadelphia Union technical staff. A quick release goal from Kacper Pryzybylko and a vintage cross and goal to win it in the dying minutes of the match were the cherries on top. If the Union can play the big games that they have left this year in their own style and with their own natural flair, then they will be able to go a long way just as they did against Atlanta. This will certainly be quite the task as all their opponents will be seeking to impose their own system against the Union, but if they are able to pull it off, they could win their first ever playoff match with the same attractive football that brought them this far this season.


  1. Vince Devine says:

    Josef’s “huge miss” wasn’t a result of Atlanta dismantling the defense. it was the result of a miscommunication between Elliott and Blake. The defense handled Atlanta’s pressure just fine.

    • +1.

      Nor did Atlanta have “mild dominance of the match”. In fact, while hard-fought, I think the Union looked like the stronger team through much of the match. They were only undone by an absolutely brilliant combination effort from Nagbe & J. Martinez.

      • Chris Gibbons says:

        While I agree with you guys that the Union looked good via the “eye test,” the match stats say that Atlanta kind of did mildly dominate. The 5 Stripes had more shots, more possession, and were essentially tied in an xPG analysis. The Union were more clinical.

      • I actually thought the ATL midfield looked faster and more technical for the entire first half. All of our midfielders were getting caught in possession except for Montiero, who again showed he had a gear higher than the rest. Likewise, Montiero was the only one catching their midfield in possession. We countered better the entire game and we took over the run of play in the second half when they were too tired to press and our subs came on.
        To be clear, I am not saying we cannot beat a fresh ATL. After all, we were playing without our Captain.

  2. One of the more fascinating things I’ve read about the match is that de Boer said he was expecting a 4-4-2. In some ways, it makes me think they completely discounted Philadelphia or just didn’t so even a little bit of work. I think every regular poster to PSP would have put money on Curtin running out a 4-2-3-1. In the end, Atlanta’s backline just crumbled. Maybe it was lost legs. Maybe it was crushed confidence. Probably a bit of both.

    • With their busy stretch of games last month, ATL may have been relying on scouting reports from earlier in the season when the Union were consistently coming out in a 442 diamond.

  3. It’s also worth noting that all the Union goals were scored after Ilsinho came on. While he wasn’t directly involved in any of them, Atlanta consistently had three defenders waiting for him on his side of the field whenever he received the ball in the attacking half, which created space elsewhere on the field for the team to attack.

    • Do any soccer stats sites do a +/- like Chris Sherman was doing last year? It would be interesting to see what Ilsinho’s is for the season.

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